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IN-DEPTH: Sam Jeffries On Discipline, Debuts And Ditching The Bus

Sam Jeffries graduated Bristol University with first class honours and is currently delving into the depths of climatology, but up until very recently there was one test he was yet to pass.

In fact, if you’re a frequent commuter on public transport in and around Cribbs Causeway, you may well have noticed a striking 6’5” figure dressed head-to-toe in Bristol Rugby stash – that’d be Sam, but not anymore.

“My driving test, I passed first time,” he says with a chuckle, “with two minors.”

“It’s quite a good thing to have eventually done; I’ve been quite lucky in that I haven’t ever really needed to learn to drive, I grew up in a small town and all of my friends drove, so I didn’t really need to.

“But now I suppose I’ve really got to grow up a bit, start paying taxes, learning to drive and being an adult I guess,” he chuckles.

“It must’ve been quite funny for all of the people on the bus routes seeing someone in Bristol Rugby stash getting on and off the bus every morning and afternoon. Twice I’ve had people ask me how the season is going, but most people don’t tend to pay too much attention.”

Until very recently, Jeffries will have been unrecognisable to many, owing to an injury-hit season and having made just a handful of appearances – but with his Premiership debut now in the bag and an eye-catching man-of-the-match display off the bench against Exeter in the Anglo-Welsh Cup, he is now very much on the map.

IMPACT: Jeffries receives his man of the match accolade after impressing off the bench against Exeter Chiefs (Photo: JMP UK). 

A self-professed ‘late bloomer’, Jeffries entered the professional game somewhat under the radar, impressing for Bristol University and Bristol United in the BUCS championship and Aviva A League, before making his first team debut against Ulster A at Ashton Gate in January 2015 – all of this while studying a Geography degree at the city’s university, where he would go on to achieve first class honours.

His current studies have seen him focusing on ‘Climate Sensitivity Of African Monsoons’ – the thesis for his Master of Science in Clinical Research studies - but on the field, Jeffries is hoping to whip up a storm of his own when the opportunity arises.

“This season has obviously been frustrating but luckily for me, being in the academy setup, I feel like I’ve got quite a lot to improve on and the progress I’ve made in other aspects has been quite positive,” he says.

“So I’ve been working quite hard with the strength and conditioning coaches and also in analysis – I feel like I’m still improving despite not having the opportunity to play.

“I’ve had three episodes as such: I’ve had a concussion which put me out at the start of the season, then a bruised bone in my foot and then I tore my lateral ligament in my knee.

ON THE MAP: Sam Jeffries made his Premiership debut against Leicester Tigers last weekend (Photo: JMP UK). 

“It’s been a year since I played my first first team game and so really excited to finally get an opportunity and I’ll be trying my hardest out there.”

Jeffries' academic achievements speak for themselves and the versatile forward is highly regarded in the squad as a source of intellectual conversation. It’s a tough juggling act, rugby and university, but one relished by the 23-year-old and regularly discussed with his teammates over breakfast.

“In the final year of my undergraduate, I was doing both rugby and university full-time, training and studying and I thought the balance was great, they complimented each other quite well because whilst you’re enjoying one or finding one difficult, you’ve got the other one as a release,” he explains.

“But I now know that in my rugby career, whatever happens for me, I’ve got something set up for me afterwards that I can continue into and also that’s set me up to keep studying through rugby.

“It’s funny, in the squad there’s a group of us at the moment who are all studying and we like to have deep conversations over breakfast about philosophical things, which is quite funny - Nick Koster, Charlie Amesbury, Kyle Traynor. Koster especially likes a deep chat.

Jeffries may be late to the professional rugby, but he believes experience gained elsewhere has stood him in good stead for it. With university and academic studies becoming evermore common for professional athletes, the Essex-born youngster believes more clubs should be on the look out for ‘late bloomers’.

“Well there’s that famous saying that ‘you can only get to the Carnegie Hall if you practise’ and I guess after playing rugby from the age of six, I was going to get good at some point,” he says.

“Straight out of school I went to New Zealand for a year where I played for Christchurch Rugby Club and also, through my degree, I had a year in Canada, at UBC in Vancouver.

SMASH: Joe Simmonds of Exeter Chiefs is driven back by Sam Jeffries (Photo: JMP UK). 

“New Zealand was unbelievable; I’d played senior rugby from a young age for my hometown club and then you go to a club over there of a similar standard and there are All Blacks – Colin Slade, Matt Todd – in the clubhouse on a Saturday night after a game.

“When I was 18 I was only 87kg at this height, so you can understand why you wouldn’t expect me to develop, but I was a late bloomer in that I was able to put on the size and improve my rugby through university.

“I think it’s something that the RFU, through the England Students programme, is trying to make more of a pathway for people to come through a bit later, through the university and eventually move into professional rugby.

“I think it’s becoming a bit more common, but academies should look at university rugby because there’s some good talent there for sure. It’s testament to the coaching at that level that people are unlocking some big talents there.”

On the horizon for Jeffries is the deadline for a 30,000-word thesis but on the rugby field he’ll settle for 80 – minutes that is - to continue to showcase his ability to the Bristol fans.

With license in hand, supporters may no longer catch a glimpse of him on the X5 bus service - but if everything goes to plan, they’ll be seeing much more of him at BS3.

By Will Carpenter.

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